Review: Hummingbird Salamander by Jeff VanderMeer

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Synopsis:

From the author of Annihilation, a brilliant speculative thriller of dark conspiracy, endangered species, and the possible end of all things.

Security consultant “Jane Smith” receives an envelope with a key to a storage unit that holds a taxidermied hummingbird and clues leading her to a taxidermied salamander. Silvina, the dead woman who left the note, is a reputed ecoterrorist and the daughter of an Argentine industrialist. By taking the hummingbird from the storage unit, Jane sets in motion a series of events that quickly spin beyond her control.

Soon, Jane and her family are in danger, with few allies to help her make sense of the true scope of the peril. Is the only way to safety to follow in Silvina’s footsteps? Is it too late to stop? As she desperately seeks answers about why Silvina contacted her, time is running out—for her and possibly for the world.

Hummingbird Salamander is Jeff VanderMeer at his brilliant, cinematic best, wrapping profound questions about climate change, identity, and the world we live in into a tightly plotted thriller full of unexpected twists and elaborate conspiracy. 

Review:

Jeff VanderMeer consistently writes some of the most interesting and weird fiction. After the Southern Reach Trilogy, it can be argued that he is one of the top five authors currently working today. The best thing about his work is that it is unpredictable and so varied that you never know what you are going to get. This makes me excited for every new book that VanderMeer releases. 

Hummingbird Salamander does not disappoint in making me wonder what is going to happen next. Following up his past two post-apocalyptic books (Borne and Dead Astronauts) with an environmental thriller only makes sense in his world. “Jane Smith” is the main character’s fake name. She is large, an ex-bodybuilder, and works in security. When a stranger dies and gives her a taxidermized hummingbird, Jane’s obsession with the meaning only increases when people start following her, watching her house, and eventually shooting at her. 

VanderMeer’s novels can be very dense. The story unfolds in a very humid way, heavy, stifling, and hot. The more that “Jane Smith” discovers, the further into the mystery she gets. She ends being completely obsessed, leaving her husband and daughter to search for answers. One of the funny, interesting things that VanderMeer likes has returned to is the office politics novel. Most of Authority, the second in the Southern Reach Trilogy, is petty office politics, and there is some of it in Hummingbird Salamander as well. It is interesting that VanderMeer can spend such a great deal of time and detail writing about office work. Mix this with the secrets that every character not only hides from other characters but from the readers, and even though this does not seem like the typical VanderMeer novel, it really fits into his collective work. 

There are so many aspects of this novel that are intriguing, like we are left questions, just like “Jane Smith.” We have more to unravel and obsess about with Hummingbird Salamander, like does this story take place in the present or in the near future? It feels like Jane’s life falling apart is being paralleled with society falling apart around her, and his her life just a microscopic facsimile of the bigger picture. The search for the meaning for the taxidermy hummingbird (which is declared rare) and the clues to an accompanying salamander (rare as well) makes me think that many animals are dying out and the structure of civilization is failing. She thinks that there might be something in the meaning behind the gift, the hummingbird, because it is a preservation of the things that used to be. The more I think about the story, the more deeper meanings and questions are quarried from the story, like the true meaning of utopia and if it can exist. At the end, this is one of those novels you catch yourself thinking about, and one that leaves a lasting impression.

I received this as an ARC through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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